...the bottom of the hole that had been blown in the stairs. In front of them was the image of the Monoceraptor, painted on the stone with bright pigments that shimmered in the hot Tyrannian sun, seeming almost to move in the light, and above them, high above, out of jumping and climbing range, was the new bottom of the Plateau stairs.
Hugg felt a surge of frustration. They'd come so far--down the path, through the tunnel--and while they were closer to the omelette now than they were when they first noticed the crater, it didn't really feel like that. He was on the verge of giving up when Hugg remembered this was Tyrannian Victory Day, not Tyrannian Surrender Day.
"Okay. We just have to think this through. There were petpet tracks leading right to this crater. This tunnel wouldn't have had an opening at this end before the crater appeared, so the petpet has to be involved, but could a petpet really do something like this?" Hugg thought out loud.
The Xweetok next to him perked up. "Hey! Remember when the Monoceraptor was defeated? There were rumours that the Monoceraptor was just a pawn of someone...or something more sinister! What if this image was created by the puppet master?"
"Sure, but who could that be? I don't know of any villains at large who have petpets," Hugg said. But as the words came out, he realized what could be behind the crater, the painting, the chaos.
Not one petpet. Many of them.
"Oh no, he said."
At that moment, he noticed something moving along the crater wall, something small and pink, with a devious twinkling in its eyes.
Hugg didn't have time to think. He just lunged, trapping the Meepit between his paws before it even knew he was there. There was a badge pinned to the Meepit's fur, and it squeaked in protest. How lucky was he that their leader was the one lingering around to put the final touches on the painting?
"Listen, you," Hugg said. "I know you can undo this. You didn't beat us last time with the Monoceraptor, and you're not going to beat us this time with its memory."
The Meepit squirmed and squeaked, and the Xweetok came up behind Hugg to see, looming over it.
"You know," she said, "you're not so scary up close. You're kinda cute, actually." She reached out a paw to pat the Meepit's head, and it snapped at her fingers. "Awww. He's scared. Can I keep him?"
Hugg looked at the Xweetok with shock on his face. "You want to...keep a Meepit?"
"I mean, after it gets its friends to clean up this mess. I don't have a petpet, and my friends live so far away. Think of all the ways I could dress it up!"
The Meepit screeched, a shrill, terrifying sound with echoes of the Monoceraptor's roar in it.
"You don't want her to take you home? You and your friends better clean up this mess. Right now."
The Meepit shook its head and snapped at Hugg, but over the Lupe's shoulder, the Xweetok took a length of fabric out of her backpack and held it up to compare the colour to his fur, and the Meepit recoiled.
"That's what I thought," Hugg said triumphantly.
The Meepit wriggling in his grip whistled, and a dozen...no, a hundred more appeared in the crater. They came from behind rocks, from under the debris, even from out of other little tunnels around the perimeter, some carrying wood and stone and leaves, and together they started to build a bridge over the pit for the crowd of Neopians who had gathered at the bottom of the stairs.
When the bridge was built, Hugg pointed to the painting of the Monoceraptor. "That too."
But it turned out that the paint the Meepits had used to make the painting wasn't so easy to wash away. It was permanent, and they couldn't clean it up.
"I guess she gets to take you home after all," Hugg told the Meepit, handing it over to the Xweetok. Then he whispered, hoping it couldn't hear, "I'll get some volunteers together to paint over it. Maybe our Altador Cup team's logo. But they don't need to know that." He winked.
The Xweetok winked back. Together, she and Hugg walked across the newly constructed bridge and filled their packs with their monthly omelette ration.